It began in the Uber ride: The sickeningly sweet scent of an Air Wick car freshener assaulted my nostrils and, like a dog in one of Pavlov’s conditioning experiments, I knew then that it was really time to go. This year’s previous Uber experiences had only led me as far as the University Avenue construction detour and no further, but this time was different. This time, I was on to bigger, better things.
“CALTRAIN” the sign in front of me screamed in bold red letters. I watched the black Honda that had brought me here skirt around the numerous Teslas and trail away into the distance. There was no going back. I grabbed onto my friend’s arm and pulled him onward. A few button presses and the swipe of an AmEx card granted us a pair of golden tickets; we were headed to the big city, and there was no stopping us now.
The interior of the train was an ominous hue of pale yellow. We settled on an empty row on the first floor, two seats ridden with unidentifiable stains. A man in a uniform passed through the aisle checking tickets as the rumble of engines marked our departure.
Staring out the window, I watched the scenery fly by in streams of dark color, muted by the dim light of the evening. Now that I had settled in, I had time to recognize my surroundings precisely for what they were not.
Buildings that were not sheltering classrooms shot by the windows in varying heights and colors. I looked around and saw people well over and under the 18-to-22 age set, relaxing on their rides, completely oblivious to intrusive thoughts about p-sets, midterms and PWR essays. Even those with open laptops appeared to be organizing photos in albums or playing outdated editions of Solitaire rather than coding away furiously.
Who were these bizarre creatures that existed so unapologetically free from the grasp of anxiety-ridden university life? If I were to breach the wall of stranger-hood and attempt to converse with them, would they indulge me in revealing more than when they’d be taking their next exam and how tired they were from studying? Could it be that I had momentarily forgotten how to interact with people outside of the sphere of college?
Our arrival in San Francisco only amplified this diversity; we had landed in an alien city in which people from all walks of life merged into a context separate from sharing the same educational institution, a place where you weren’t crossing bike paths with people who only existed to you as curated Instagram accounts and awkwardly deciding whether you should wave hello or not.
However, even as I enjoyed temporarily inhabiting and exploring this foreign space, I felt an odd pull in my gut. I felt a voice whispering about all the tasks that I could be doing in place of waltzing around the city on a Thursday night. I felt a scolding finger shaking at me for not attempting to get more work done.
It took a while for me to convince myself that if there was anything I would appreciate at the end of the week, it would be this fleeting escape from all my responsibilities as a Stanford student. Transitively, if there were anything that I would regret most, it would be allowing the guilt of not doing more homework or preparation to taint the experience of this moment of freedom.
At school, we love the friends that we have made, we love the class material that we are learning, we love the endless opportunities we are provided, but one must admit that leaving the bubble every once in a while and casting aside all of the assignments and worries about our futures can be both refreshing and rewarding in itself.
Sometimes we forget how to live our lives outside the realm of incessant work, and it is for this reason that sometimes we need to take that Thursday night Caltrain ride to remind ourselves.
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.